Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

By Ronald P. Leow; Héctor Campos et al. | Go to book overview

3
When Small Words Collide
Morphological Reduction and Phonological Compensation in Old Leonese Contractions

MINTA ELSMAN AND D. ERIC HOLT

University of South Carolina

THE PHENOMENON of the grammaticalization of lexical words into function words has received much attention in various fields of linguistics (Hopper and Traugott 1993, among numerous works). While grammaticalization usually results in the phonological reduction of the words in question, this reduction does not usually lead to the loss of semantic recoverability However, function words are inherently phonologically short, so any reduction resulting from grammaticalization would incur a proportionally greater loss to the surface realization of their meaning. An example of such grammaticalization comes from Medieval Leonese, and a close analysis of this data suggests that, as function words are grammaticalized and undergo phonological reduction, individual features take on a correspondingly greater role in distinguishing meaning that was previously represented by entire segments.

The following section presents the Leonese preposition + article contraction data that motivate the theoretical claims of the article, subsequent sections lay out our formal assumptions and present tableaux and explications of the varying success of the competing candidates across related forms and dialects, and the final section offers a summary and concluding remarks and discusses avenues for further research.


Leonese Preposition + Article Combinations
and Grammaticalization

Tuten (2003) discusses the contraction of preposition + article sequences into single words in various regions of Medieval Spain, and here we focus our attention on Leonese, which we have decomposed for expository purposes into palatalizing and nonpalatalizing varieties.1 (Data adapted from Tuten 2003, 115–17, based mainly on MenéndezPidal 1964, 330–39, and Staaff 1907, 253–58. Note that nn = [ɲ;]; ll = [ʎ].)2

In the contractions a single word that is in some instances phonologically distinct from either of its components; for example, despite the existence of the contraction connas (table 3.1) there exists no preposition conn or article nnas or as.

The data by Tuten represent a unique case of grammaticalization of function words into even smaller morphemic units, and the phonological reduction that results

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